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Rule of 9’s

Emergency responders have lots of rules of thumb we use to assess situations we encounter.

For severity of burns, most are familiar with the system of three degrees describing how deep and serious the burns are. We also use a “rule of nines” in which body surface area is divided into 11 regions, each of which is approximately 9% of the body surface area. Each arm, top of a leg, back of leg, upper and lower torso and back, and head are approximately 9% of the surface area of an adult human being.

This allows us rather quickly to estimate how extensive burns are.

It’s not a rule you want to imagine using, but you can imagine when you need to use it, it helps you keep a level head. It also helps us remain somewhat objective in our assessments. We have to weigh what looks gruesome but not extensive against what might be more significant but not appear so at first glance. Now, as everyone quickly counts, 11 regions of 9% gives 99% of the surface area.

The remaining 1% is calculated for the groin.

(photo credit)

Obviously, we don’t use surface area alone to describe a burn; we have additional rules and protocols to get a better grasp of the situation and make better decisions about care in the field and the best destination for our patients. The rule of nines for burns offers us a parallel rule of nines for sexuality.

All too often we get tunnel vision in the field. We are distracted by a particular injury that may be visually or emotionally stunning. If we are not careful, we neglect all the other signs and symptoms in the patient.

All too often we get tunnel vision when considering our own masculinity and femininity.

To put it bluntly in the form of a question, have we fallen into the trap of thinking of our sexuality as though it were only 1% of our body surface area?

Pope John Paul II reflected deeply on human sexuality. One of the profound conclusions of his prayerful reflections is that sexuality is not simply our capacity to “have sex” or even to express our love with 1% of our surface area, but rather sexuality is our capacity to give ourselves. This presents a real challenge for us. I like to think of myself as a manly man, doing carpentry, driving fire trucks, running a triathlon, reading ancient languages, and defending the weak. But, I also recognize that temptation to have a myopic view of my own sexuality as essentially only expressed with 1% of my body surface area.

This has the effect of limiting my masculinity to a narrow range of my life.

But when I meditate with JPII, I realize that my sexuality is much more than this very important, but still very limited expression of myself. I have to find ways to live my masculinity beyond the 1% of my surface area with the goal that I learn to give my love at the 100% level and not the 1% level. This involves all the challenges of learning which 9% does what and what is appropriate to express where, but it also involves all the joy of genuine and complete gift of self.

Perhaps we can translates the challenge from JPII’s reflections and the rule of nines to reflect on how we learned to use our sexuality and express our love beyond the 1% of our body’s surface area.

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Tommy Humphries

Tommy is a proud father and husband for the Humphries’ outpost in Florida. A native of Arkansas, he grew up in Little Rock. He is paid to teach philosophy, theology, and religion as university professor (CV on, and volunteers his time as a District Chief with the county Fire Rescue Department.

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